Teacher Man – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, January 28

How can one ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?

     Who was your 1st grade teacher?  I’ll start.  My first grade teacher was Mrs. Maddox.  Go ahead and turn to someone near you and tell that person the name of your 1st grade teacher.

     Just in case you were traumatized by your 1st grade teacher and have blocked that person out of your mind, turn to a different person this time and share the name of your fifth grade teacher.  Go ahead.

     My fifth grade teacher was Mr. Smith.  The first male teacher I ever had.  Besides wearing more cologne than any man should ever be allowed to wear, Mr. Smith taught me that you should be excited about learning new things.  Of all the teachers I had in elementary school, he seemed like the one who had the most passion for teaching.  I remember wanting to be just like Mr. Smith.

     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?

     Frank McCourt, who wrote the book, Angela’s Ashes and then his second book, “Teacher Man,” had a 30 year teaching career in New York City’s public high schools beginning in the late 1950s.

     Frank McCourt became a great teacher and had a positive influence on his students because he was able to find ingenious ways to motivate them to learn.  To help students appreciate writing in all forms, he had them read cookbook recipes while other students played music in the background.  To help them to be better writers, he had them write critiques about the school cafeteria as well as restaurants in New York City.

     He tells of his second day teaching in 1958 when a fight broke out and one of the students threw a sandwich in anger.  To calm the situation, he simply picked the sandwich off the floor and started eating it much to the surprise of his students.

     In one of his chapters, he writes about a time that he took 20 to 30 rowdy teenagers to a play there in New York City.  He writes that it was one of the most challenging things that he ever had to do to get those teenagers safely to the play and back to the school.

     One of those girls, who was one of the more difficult young students on this field trip, ended up having such a positive experience, that it later changed her life.  All because of a teacher who was willing to go above and beyond his duties to help students explore and learn new things.

     In his book, Frank McCourt makes the observation that in America we don’t value teachers like people do in the countries of Europe.  I think he’s on to something.

      Never underestimate the influence of a good teacher.

     So it shouldn’t surprise us in the least, to read in our Gospel Lesson this morning that one of Jesus’ first miracles happened to be while he was teaching in a synagogue.

     Jesus wasn’t known as a Priest or a Reverend.  People called him “Rabbi” or “Teacher.”

     And there he was one day, early in his ministry, teaching away right there in the middle of a worship service.  Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on one of those walls that day?

     What was he teaching?  What did Jesus tell the people?

     I don’t know, but it must have been really good, since Mark tells us that the people were astounded at his teaching, because he didn’t teach like the scribes taught.  Jesus taught with authority.

     At a farm house retreat center in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1984, I sat in utter astonishment, as Dr. Paul Schaeffer was teaching on the Book of Acts.

     Dr. Schaeffer, or Paul as we often called him, was leading a spring retreat for the college students of the Philadelphia area.  I already knew that he was a brilliant man who could speak a thousand words a minute, but it was at that moment of his teaching, that I really began to feel a tug on my heart about entering the pastoral ministry.

     Here was a man who had a doctorate in the History of the Reformation and who knew the Bible backwards and forwards, but who also had the wonderful ability to teach the Bible to college students in ways that we would understand and apply it to our lives.

     I was drawn to him.  And I felt God calling me into some kind of teaching ministry.

     A few years ago, I got motivated to track down this wonderful teacher, pastor, and scholar.  Figuring that he was no longer at the same church in Philadelphia, I discovered that he was now the Chairman of Religious Studies at Grove City College located in western Pennsylvania.

     I must have caught him in between classes when I called him on the phone that day, because he indicated that he was in a bit of a hurry. But I had just enough time to tell him that he was one of the reasons that I felt a calling into the pastoral ministry.

     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?

     About thirteen years ago in Maumee, Ohio, which is close to Toledo, I was sitting in the bleachers during a baseball game, minding my own business when these two giggly girls who looked to be somewhere in their early teens sat a few rows down from me.

     After about an inning, one of the girls happens to turn back to get my attention, and she says in this giggly voice, “Are you Mr. McDowell?  Are you Mrs. McDowell’s husband?”

     I could just tell that my peaceful late afternoon was about to change dramatically.

     And the one girl says, “Oh goody.”  And immediately, both of them moved on up a few rows to sit next to me. I was afraid that was going to happen.

    And the one girl says, “Oh my gosh.  Mrs. McDowell is our teacher. And we just love Mrs. McDowell.  We just love how she is so organized.  She has a container for everything.  For paper clips.  For books.  For pens and pencils.  We want to be just like Mrs. McDowell. What is it like to be her husband?  Is she the same way at home? Does she keep everything in its place there too? 

     (Oh kid, you have no idea. You have no idea!)

     We just love Mrs. McDowell.  She loves to read. She’s, like, read every book ever written!  We love to read, too. We love Mrs. McDowell. Tell her we said hi. Tell her we’ll see her tomorrow in school.”

     And these two girls proceeded to talk to me non-stop for the rest of the baseball game.  They wouldn’t even pause to take a breath.

     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?

     I think of so many people who have taught me the Bible from a very early age, from Sunday School teachers to my grandmother who gave me bible quizzes after school each day. Thanks to their teachings, I became very familiar with the stories in the Bible.

When I went to seminary, the professors helped me to understand the Bible in an even deeper way. They taught me the importance of understanding the historical context when reading the bible, knowing a little about Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible and how it’s not always easy to translate it into the English language because words can have a variety of meanings.

They taught me the different kinds of literature that we find in the Bible, why there are two creation stories and not just one, why there are four gospels and not just one, why the same story appears in different books of the Bible and sometimes have conflicting details.

And to be honest, at first, a lot of this was unsettling to me because it wasn’t quite the way my grandmother taught me the Bible or the way my Sunday School teachers taught me the Bible.

I’ll never forget what one of my seminary professors said to all of us during orientation. He said, “Think of yourself as a brick building. During seminary, you may feel like you are exploding and bricks are flying everywhere because you are going to be intellectually challenged, but eventually, those bricks are going to be put back and you are going to have a much stronger foundation of faith as a result of it.”

He was so right. Let’s put it this way. I am extremely thankful for my parents, my grandmother and my Sunday School teachers who taught me the stories of the Bible at an early age. Without them, I wouldn’t have had a spiritual foundation on which to build.

And I’m equally grateful to teachers and professors later in my life who have challenged me to dig under the surface of those scriptures that I knew by heart. Some of those scripture passages have taken on a whole new meaning for me and I’m still seeing things in new ways.

I think as we mature and grow, we begin asking questions about the Bible like how do we reconcile all of the violence that we find in the pages of this book where in some cases, even God’s own people are commanded to wipe out a whole group of people?

And other questions like, where does our modern understanding of science fit into how we read the Bible and how do we decide on what commandments are meant for today, and what commandments were meant for that time period?

Here at Athens First, we’ve been emphasizing the importance for every person to grow in having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith. This year, Rick Seiter and I have decided to offer more Learning Faith opportunities.

And so, here’s what we have planned. This is exciting! Beginning Monday, February 19, I am going to teach a six week course on Intro to the Bible. Following that course, Rick is going to offer a six week class on spiritual formation called, Renovation. And in between those two courses, Jenaye Hill will be offering a Spiritual Gifts class, similar to what we offered this past Fall.

So, during these upcoming winter and spring months, there will be a lot of additional learning opportunities. And every Sunday morning, our Trinity Sunday School class studies different topics related to our Christian faith.

Let’s have 2018 be a year where we emphasize the importance of having a “Learning Faith.”

If you like to listen to podcasts which I like to do, you might be interested in listening to “The Bible for Normal People” podcast. It’s led by bible scholar, Peter Enns. He always has a bible scholar join him as a guest and they discuss different topics about the Bible each week. You might not always agree with everything that is said on those podcasts but the wisdom of these bible scholars is invaluable. I have listed this podcast in the bulletin announcements.

But what’s the point of all of this again? How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?

Mark says that things got even more interesting while Jesus was teaching in the synagogue.  He says that “Just then, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’”

Worship got interrupted and the real test of Jesus, the Teacher Man is on the line.  Is this man truly a teacher sent by God?  Can this man truly back up what he has been teaching?

Jesus, not one to back down from an opportunity to bring healing, commands the unclean spirit to come out of this man and after a few cries, the unclean spirit leaves him.  And just like that, he was healed.

Now, remember, that even before this miraculous healing, the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching.   Imagine what they think of Jesus now.  And we are told that they were all amazed.  This Teacher Man is something other.  This Teacher Man brings healing.  And as you read through the Gospel of Mark, you see many more moments like this, where Jesus heals people and makes them whole again.

I wonder if this isn’t the whole point of the teaching ministry of the church.  Our Sunday School program, our bible studies, our small groups, the Sunday preaching – to teach and preach God’s Word in such a way, that it brings healing to people who are in desperate need for more of God in their lives.

Physical healing?  Perhaps.  Emotional healing.  Certainly.  Spiritual healing?  No doubt.

Perhaps St. Mark is calling us to lift up special prayers this week for those who are involved in the wonderful and exciting ministry of teaching.

It’s a ministry that astounds us and can even usher in healing and new life.  Allow your life to be changed and transformed by this Teacher Man, this Son of the Living God.

Why?  Because, you just can’t underestimate the influence of a good teacher. Thanks be to God!

Teacher Man

Small Group Questions

Mark 1:21-28

January 28, 2018

Pastor Robert began his sermon by referring to teacher/author, Frank McCourt who wrote the book, Angela’s Ashes. Frank was a very creative High School teacher who helped students who didn’t want to learn discover the joy of learning.

Who was (is) your favorite teacher in school? What made that person a special teacher for you?

In our Gospel reading, one of Jesus’ first miracles occurred while he was teaching in the synagogue. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us since Jesus was referred to as a rabbi and a teacher. Teaching was an important part of his ministry.

Share a time in your life when you learned something about your faith and it opened up a new way of looking at things.

This week’s focus on the importance of Jesus’ teaching ministry and the importance of learning more about our faith reminds us that it’s perfectly OK to have questions about our faith. In one survey in which Christians were asked to share their troubling faith questions, these were the top ones: 1) Why does the bible sometimes portray God as violent when God is supposed to be loving? 2) Why does the Bible and our understanding of science not always agree? 3) Why does God allow evil in the world? 4) Is Christianity the only correct religion? 5) How can we believe in God and the bible when so many Christian treat each other so badly?

Share a particular question that you have about the bible or about your faith in general that you would like to give more focus. NOTE: Don’t use this time to try to “solve” these questions. Just name them.

Pastor Robert mentioned that he wants 2018 to be a year where we offer more “Learning Faith” opportunities. These include an Intro to the Bible 6-week course beginning on February 19, 6:30 pm at the church, a 6-week course on spiritual formation called, “Renovation” beginning in April, as well as a short course on knowing your spiritual gifts. Look for more information about these coming Learning Faith classes. He also shared a bible podcast, “The Bible for Normal People,” that includes a bible scholar each week. Also, don’t forget about our Trinity Sunday School class that meets every Sunday at 9 am in our 1st floor lounge.